Mark Todd is coming back to Corona del Mar High yet again, not to lead the Sea Kings, but to coach against them.
Todd has returned to CdM a handful of times since leaving the school five years ago. He's in his fourth season in charge of Newport Harbor, CdM's Back Bay rival. The schools have played five times since Todd moved across the bay.
The sixth meeting is Tuesday, when Todd guides the No. 15-seeded Sailors (8-8) to his former stomping ground to open the U.S. Lacrosse Southern Section South Division playoffs against No. 2 CdM (13-1) at 5:15 p.m.
"I hate playing those guys," Todd joked, knowing the Sea Kings have owned Newport Harbor since 2006. "CdM is a very physical team. They are a very smart team. They wear you down on defense. [To beat them, we're going to need] an incredible team effort and a little bit of luck."
The Sailors last topped CdM nine years ago, when Todd used to be at the helm of the Sea Kings.
The postseason contest marks the second between the two programs. The first came three years ago, in Todd's debut season with the Sailors. Newport Harbor lost in the opening round at CdM, 13-9, marking its closest game against the Sea Kings since 2006.
Corona del Mar is steam rolling into the playoffs, having won seven in a row, outscoring opponents by almost seven goals per game. Coach G.W. Mix, in his fifth season, has his Sea Kings focused since they suffered their only loss.
The lone team to knock off CdM this season was Beckman, which earned a No. 7 seed. The 10-9 setback on the road on April 4 happened a week after the Sea Kings easily beat Newport Harbor, 13-4, to claim the Battle of the Bay for the ninth straight year.
The Sea Kings have hunkered down defensively since losing to Beckman, allowing only four goals per game. Junior goalie Hoyt Crance and his twin brother, Hugh, a University of Notre Dame commit, and junior Brett Greenlee, a Denver commit, lead CdM on defense.
The defense faces a Newport Harbor offense coming off a 20-5 rout of Edison in a Sunset League finale on Friday. The goals set a Newport Harbor single-game school record, and Kole Escher played a big role. The senior attacker finished with five goals and two assists, and the goals helped Escher set a single-season school record for goals with 52.
The Sailors' other two big scorers are juniors Alex Fuller and John Mooers, who have combined for 61 goals and 39 assists. Escher and Fuller have been producing in bunches during Newport Harbor's six-game winning streak, a stretch in which the team is averaging 13 goals per game. The strong finish to the regular season secured second place in league and the Sailors' sixth straight postseason appearance.
Making the playoffs isn't big news for CdM, which usually competes for the big trophy. The Sea Kings have reached the U.S. Lacrosse Southern Section South Division finals in four of the past five years.
A fifth trip, even with a team with three seniors, seems more than possible. The favorites to advance the South Division finals at Aliso Niguel High on May 14 are CdM and top-seeded Foothill (16-1), programs ranked No. 13 and No. 2, respectively, in California by LaxPower.com. Whoever represents the South Division meets the North Division champion for the U.S. Lacrosse Southern Section title at Huntington Beach High on May 17.
The Sea Kings look to make it back to the finale, after winning it all two years ago. They feature a balanced attack, with juniors Sherwin Gersten, Ben Palitz and Noah Howe, and sophomore Stephen Von Der Ahe. They go up against a sophomore goalie in John Jasper, a junior varsity call-up who hasn't lost since taking over as the starter on April 16.
The key to the Sea Kings' success is faceoff specialist Jason Simaan, a sophomore who's considered one of the best in the state. Simaan will go up against Newport Harbor senior Nathan Chaness.
"We have a lot of respect for them," Mix said of the Sailors. "They are good kids, compete hard and are well-coached. Either team will have to play very well to advance."
Under Mix, the Sea Kings always get the best of the Sailors.
•In the girls' U.S. Lacrosse Southern Section South Division playoffs, CdM earned a No. 6 seed and Newport Harbor a No. 12.
The Sea Kings (13-4) open at home against No. 11 Mission Viejo (9-7) at 3:15 p.m., while Newport Harbor (10-6) hits the road to play No. 5 Mater Dei (9-7) at 5 p.m.